July 23rd 2013

Apparently the Czechs aren’t keen on the name Czech Republic and you can see why but so far no one can think of anything better. It doesn’t do justice to this beautiful country which has finally made it - a bit late - to the ball. But here it is, ancient country reborn, on the other side of Communism. It is a magical country and destination for The Wayfarers’ European Walking Vacations. The Vienna to Prague Walk is the discovery of two stunning European capitals, and more importantly, the unspoilt Czech Republic regions of Bohemia and Moravia in between. Vienna and Prague are two undisputed beauties, of course. By the end of the Walk, you will have your favourite but you may find that it’s the less often visited landscape in between that steals your heart. Woodland walking - on the way to Slavonice Imagine walking through meadows fringed with wildflowers in the most intense colours: cobalt blue of the cornflower and the intense pink of a tiny flower called Virgin’s Tears. Your trail may take you through cool forests of tall, silent pines or through vineyards or up hills peaked by ruined castles overlooking a lake. The Communists were keen on lakes and ironically, so is the European Union. For many of us, it’s a rare treat to see landscapes unspoilt by ugly architecture, wind turbines or passing traffic. Wild cornflowers From the countryside you step into the beautifully preserved Renaissance and Baroque towns with ornate, colourful homes set around a colonnaded square. The facades of the houses deliver the same aesthetic hit as a display of macaroons in a Parisian patisserie, with colours ranging from rose pink to lemon yellow and pea green. There are also the striking 'Sgraffiato' facades with scenes of daring-do and everyday life sketched in white on black. Some private houses still have Renaissance paintings in their interiors. Mikulov - town square showing typical sgraffiato facade You’ll notice it’s often the sounds, especially of bells in the early morning that alert you to your ‘away-ness’. In the Czech Republic, the churches’ simple yellow exterior is topped with a classic onion dome, or something a little more elaborate – such as the fabulously decorated tower at Mikulov. Jindřichův Hradec, Mikulov, Telč and Slavonice are all gems: each with their own unique charm. It’s virtually impossible to pick your favourite. Anyway, why bother, just love them all. And your list will probably be useless when you arrive at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Český Krumlov. With a bit of luck, the sun will be shining on the broad River Vltava as it snakes through the ancient heart of Český Krumlov’s winding Medieval streets. The huge castle is the finest example of many beautifully preserved examples you can visit. Communism has been surprisingly kind to these national treasures which are intact and reveal the enormous wealth and importance of the noble families in Czech Kingdom. Take the opportunity to book a ticket to see the 18th century Baroque theatre, in a perfect time warp, complete with costumes, original wooden seating, several tableaux of scenery, props and libretti. Walking round this town, after the others, you might be asking yourself whether all this beauty is getting a bit much. Prague is just around the corner – consider yourself in training. Český Krumlov and the River Vltava So, back in the 13th century, the Czech states of Moravia and Bohemia were in full cultural flow, whilst their neighbour, Austria was still a land of grass and cattle. Our Czech Walk Leader Jana imparts this information with evident satisfaction. Everywhere you see the stamp of the noble families of Habsburgs and Liechtensteins vying with each other to build the most elaborate, ornate castles and palaces. The Liechtenstein family had not one but some 20 castles in the region, all confiscated in 1945 (when the Czech government refused to recognise Liechtenstein’s neutrality in WWI). Holed up in Vaduz, in the principality of Liechtenstein, the family remain keen to get back home. So far, it’s a ‘no’. After all the annexing and invading, the Czech government has decided that no foreigner may own land in the Czech Republic. The benefit is to us tourists who can enjoy visit their palaces, including the extraordinary neo-Gothic summer residence at Lednice with its perfectly preserved conservatory, and range of follies. Many people still associate the Czech Republic with Communism more than Baroque beauty. It does haunt the Czech Republic in some ugly bunker-type buildings but perhaps more noticeably in the national character and people’s stories. Our Czech Walk Leader tells us that Czechs rarely greet and smile at each other or strangers because ‘life has been very hard.’ That’s not to say they are morose, not at all. It’s hard for us to imagine what it would be like, knowing you could be shot for tuning your radio into a foreign station. The homes have TV aerials now but within this generation, people were in the fields, trying to pick up a signal from the outside world. On one pathside you can see a metal cross, marking the spot where just one brave soul died attempting to escape into Austria. Metal cross memorial to Communist escapee Some of the region’s most beautiful towns and villages, such as Slavonice were abandoned in a No Man’s Land, behind the Iron Curtain. Slavonice, (pronounced Slavoneetza) has the air of being woken up, and has a particular poignancy. It’s just one of several border towns and villages deserted until the 1990s but now happily being reclaimed. From Český Krumlov, you head for Prague where the Walk ends. And what a finish! Your first view of Prague’s skyline tells you here is a city completely free of skyscrapers, modern towers and giant shopping malls. It’s a modern city without the modern architecture. It’s perhaps not as well signed as Vienna, so you might get lost but why not? Like Vienna, Prague has a great tram system, so you can nip about and explore or just sit in one of the wonderful cafes and perhaps dream about you’ll go on your next travel adventure. Final Destination: Prague by: Alicen Dines. Alicen manages Facebook and Twitter for The Wayfarers and loves travel (obviously), cake from anywhere in the world and silly jokes.

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